Wednesday, May 24, 2017

M3D Micro+... What a great Surprise!

I just completed an order for 4 M3D Micro+ 3D printers on the Sharper Image web site.

An hour ago I had no idea they were available.  And, a few weeks ago, I had no idea they existed!!!

But, what a wonderful surprise.

All my focus had been on the upcoming release of the the bigger and faster MicroPro.

The MicroPro is in Alpha testing right now and it's worthy of attention.  But, it will be a little while before it's what M3D calls "Market Ready".  I am fortunate enough to have one and I can tell you it's going to be an awesome 3D printer.  

But, my focus in THIS post is to alert you to an equally awesome printer in its price range of $299.

While concentrating on testing the MicroPro, M3D was quietly upgrading the Micro, that has played such an important part in our work with at-risk young people.  

Here is the Features Page for the new Micro+.

While the original Micro is easy to use, the new Micro+ is even easier.  It now sports a self-leveling bed and there is even an optional heated bed to reduce warping.  Moreover, it can be ramped up to about 2.5 times the speed of the original Micro.  And, all this is just $299.

And, I hear that the Micro+ can run UNTETHERED!!!   That is huge!

M3D sold more than 50,000 Micro 3D printers.  I'm convinced this new Micro+ will find many more homes than that.

We should be receiving the new Micro+ printers by this time next week.  As soon as I have one I will compare the old and the new side-by-side to let you see for yourself whether now is the time to bring home a remarkably quiet, capable and affordable 3D printer.

It's enough to make an old guy feel young again!

Monday, May 8, 2017

M3D Pro - Observations from the Backer Forums

This post is not meant to be critical of anyone.  It's simply meant to be helpful when you take delivery of your own M3D Pro printer.

Some of you may be old enough to remember that all new cars came with instructions for the new owner about a "break in period".  The break in period lasted for a specified number of miles and owners were expected to treat the new car rather gently for that period of time.  Primarily, it was meant to keep a little issue from becoming a big one if the automobile was run too hard.  Plus, it allowed all the bearings and valves to properly seat and ensured oil was evenly distributed before any heavy pressure was put on the motor.

In a sense, a newly released 3D printer also deserves to be treated a bit more gently than you might 10 months down the road.  Based on what I've read that's not a universally understood principle.


The first way to treat your new printer with respect is to get used to it's personality without undue stress by using brand new filament... preferably purchased from the vendor selling the printer.  Believe it or not, some have mentioned using old filament that they've had around for a while.

Bad idea.

PLA easily absorbs moisture from the air and degrades fairly quickly.  Using old filament might mislead you into thinking their is a problem with the printer when the true cause of failures is water in the filament itself.


Another thing I've observed is that those new to 3D printing will often download an STL from one of the 3D object sharing sights, not realizing that filament-based 3D Printers (FDM) do not handle unsupported features without adding some support.  I made that mistake when I took delivery of my first Cube 3D printer.  The object I downloaded was actually impossible for any FDM printer to print... even with supports because the piece was entirely too convoluted.  It was meant to be printed with a powder-based printer, with the surrounding powder providing the need supports.

An example of an inappropriate object might look like this:

Unsupported Box
It looks easy enough to print; but the unsupported top rails will sag and destroy the print.  As a new user, it's easy to think that something is wrong with the printer.  But, in fact it is the design of the object that makes it difficult to print in an FDM 3D printer.


New users quickly learn that 3D printing takes time.  And bigger prints take a lot more time than smaller prints.  When you are getting to know a new 3D printer it is much better to print small or moderately small objects so that you can observe the printer in action with several different objects over the same time period a single laeg object might print.  These short prints make it easier to observe the result, make adjustments and reprint if needed.  In the end, your printer will be in better adjustment than it might be had you printed a single large object in the very same time span.


Your new printer has been bouncing around in a box in a truck on its way to you.  While they are pack extremely well and were tested at the factory, there is a good chance that the Gap and Level needs to be set before you will get great prints from your new printer.  If you need help, you can Google "M3D SETTING GAP" or "M3D SETTING LEVEL" to find the help you need.  Over time, we expect to produce tutorial videos and articles specifically for the M3D Micro and the M3D Pro.

In the meantime you can post a question as a comment on this blog and I'll do my best to try to find the answer to your specific issue.

I want nothing more than for you to enjoy your Micro or Pro with as little hassle and stress as possible.  The less you stress your printer, the less it will stress you.  It's just common sense.

If you need some suggestions for objects to print that will help you better understand how to get the most out of your printer, again, feel free to ask me in a comment.  I want this to be a community that shares tips and ideas so that we all grow in expertise while having a lot of fun.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

EVERYONE is a Novice at Some Level With a New 3D Printer

I often hear people apologize as they ask a question with something like "I'm new to 3D printing and this is my first 3D printer."

Little do they know that no matter how many 3D printers one might have used in the past, they are still novices at some level when faced with a new 3D printer.  While past experience helps, it is no guarantee that we can instantly get the best prints out of our latest purchase.

I was recently reminded of this when one of the teachers to whom we had provided a Micro 3D printer, called to report that it was "broken" and wouldn't work.  Picking up the printer to find out what was wrong and possibly return it for repair, I found that the printer was working perfectly.

Yet, this was a person who had used the Cube 3D printers for several years!

The Cube 3D printers, with which they were familiar used a magnet to hold the print table in place.  And, it also required the application of a liquid glue on the glass print table.

The Micro, on the other hand, secures the table by sliding the back of the table into a full-length slot and then moving it forward to lock two tabs in the front of the plate into place.  And, the plate is covered with a sheet of BuildTak.  No glue is required.

I didn't have time to check the printer over when I picked it up and dropped off a replacement.  Now that I have had the time to check the "broken" printer out, I'm surprised I haven't gotten a call to report that the replacement is broken!

The first thing I noticed was that the plate was backwards.  It wasn't fully inserted and locked.  The second thing I found was that the build plate was covered in glue!  Apparently, having experience with the Cube needing glue, when an object didn't stick due to a too large gap, they thought the problem could be fixed by a liberal application of glue!

I have no idea whether they actually tried to print on a backwards plate; but, that isn't what is important in this situation.  They did what they knew to do based on their past experience. 

It was not all their fault that past experience that led they astray. A larger share of the fault was mine, as the training director, in not being better at communicating the differences between the two 3D printers.

Fortunately, our guiding principle in our 3D design and printing program is "Your Failures Are Not Final".  This turns out to be a great learning opportunity for both me and our teachers.  We were so excited by our new program for our teachers that we focused on providing them with a printer without focusing enough on every facet of its operation.  That won't happen in the future.

Even though I am considered an "expert" when it comes to the Cube series of printers, there was much to learn with my first Micro printer.  But, every stumble, came new understanding about how to make the most of everything the Micro offered.

And, it won't be any different for me when I finally get take delivery of the M3D Pro.  I will be a Pro novice... just like everybody else  That's just the nature of 3D printers.  Just as I had to learn how to use all of my other 3D printers and work within their realm, so too, I expect to have to go through a learning curve to get the most out of the Pro.

So, what does this mean for you?

I understand what it feels like to be a novice with a new 3D printer.  I've shared the bewilderment that every new 3D printer owner feels.  And, I don't want to ever lose that perspective as I gain more and more experience with both the Micro and the Pro.

By helping out our teacher I gained valuable insight about my own responsibilities to ALL of our teachers.  Over the past 4-5 years of my Cube focused blog, I've received hundreds of help requests.  And, while I've been able to help the majority of them, I learned from every one of them as I sought for answers that I didn't immediately know.

The novice experience is immensely valuable to the growth of those who desire to be experts.  Sometime we know what NOT to do to the point that we miss out on some very cool potential. 

When I say that I am committed to helping new users of both Micro and Pro it is based on the fact that I need to learn and grow and I have found that so-called newbies have a lot to contribute to that growth.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

M3D Software - Automatic ALPHA Update to

Sometime the features you like most in a software product have nothing to do with the primary application for which the software is intended.

As i opened the M3D Printer client, I was surprised and pleased that it automatically installed the latest version.  We are now up to v1.7.0.72.

Again, this version is at the ALPHA stage of development.  So, think carefully before installing it.  However, so far, I have had no problems using it with the Micro so far.

I'll have to check on the loction of the release notes.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Dr. Armani - 3D Printing’s expanding role in medicine and food by Michael Armani

I have mentioned before, in these pages, that I consider M3D to be MORE than a consumer 3D printer company.  I consider it to be an INNOVATION company.

Over the next few years I expect to hear a lot more from M3D than some might expect.

Here is a link to an article by Dr. Michael Armani that might shed some light on why I feel as I do.  It was published in

Here is a link to the article.

The first point that he makes is that:
 "The key distinction between industries (early computers vs. today's computers) is that, in the case of 3D printing, Moore’s law would be based on the number of material types, the capacity for printing in specific types of materials, and the application in varying industries—particularly in medicine and food."
We already have evidence that M3D has a commitment to new materials with the availability of Tough 3D Ink, ABS-R, Chameleon 3D Ink and Carbon Fiber.  And, they have announced a new material to be introduced soon.  ABS-R is an important evolutionary (or revolutionary) step for those that like the properties of ABS; but, are worried about the possible dangers of the fumes from normal ABS.

He follows up on the medical comments with this observation:
"For example, surgeons are finding that they can print their own tools and parts instead of outsourcing to expensive vendors. Medical students and experienced surgeons alike are printing models to simulate real operations. Parents can hold a 3D-printed model of their unborn child that was created from just an ultrasound scan. The dental industry has also embraced consumer 3D printers with many practices having a printer in-office for implants."
Interestingly, one of the first people to contact me when I first started blogging about the 1st Gen Cube was an oral surgeon from South America that wanted me to try printing a 3D scan of a jaw to see if a low-cost 3D printer might help him prepared for surgery.  I was amazed at how well the print came out on a consumer level machine.  Yes, there were some issues with supports; but, that was more than 5 years ago this month! 

3D printers have dramatically improved since then and that includes the ability to print rinse-away supports in a two-head printer.  And, in our 3D ThinkLink Creativity Lab, we have a small micro-SLA 3D printer specifically designed for dentistry applications!  So, that reality is NOW.

Dr. Armani's background gives him particularly great insight into the future of bio-printed organs:
"There are millions of people around the world awaiting transplants, but it can be very difficult to find a donor that’s a tissue match and can be high-risk when one is found. This problem could completely eliminate the risk of tissue rejection with bio-printed organs, and can also be a much cheaper alternative."
Before I knew about Dr. Armani, I was already familiar with the Tissue Engineering and Biomaterials Laboratory in the Kim building at the University of Maryland.

The Univeristy of Maryland engineering department is huge; but, I'm making the assumption that Dr. Armani worked in that lab at some point in his years at the University of Maryland.  When I first made contact with M3D I was super-pleased to hear that he had obtained his Ph.D. in Bioengineering from UMD.  You see, we take our Youth Challenge cadets to visit the lab twice a year and the cadets are blown away by the application of 3D printing and tissue re-generation happening in that lab.

Cadets at the Tissue Engineering & Biomaterials Lab
Not the 3D Printer in the Background

For a 3D printer designer and materials designer, a background in bioengineering is a lot different than most bring to the table.  A background like that broadens horizons and, by necessity, brings an openness to new vistas that I don't see in leaders of other consumer 3D printer companies.

And the perfect example of that kind of thinking is evident in this observation:
In five years’ time, the food industry will begin using 3D printers to produce meat with comparable taste and texture to the real thing, which will help eliminate the world hunger crisis and be a real competitor to traditional meat producers. Imagine, a pink steak with the marble in all the right places without killing livestock, wasting mass amounts of water or emitting carbon into the environment. It’s the kind of advancement that can save lives, help clean up the environment, and truly disrupt an industry – and we might see it in just a few years.
Many 3D Printer CEOs might have paid tribute to 3D printing of food by talking solely about 3D printed pancakes or chocolate.  But, Dr. Armani's background allows him to go well beyond that to the merging of 3D printing techniques with other scientific disciplines to open our eyes to much greater opportunities.

It's a great read.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

M3D Micro/Pro Software - Print Manager Page

Version V1.7.0.71 - ALPHA

At the time of this writing, v1.7.0.71 is in the Alpha stage of development.  Current Micro users may want to wait until the software is either in Beta or Full Release.
There is no label that officially identifies the page we are going to discuss in this post.  But, Print Manager Page seems appropriate. 

M3D Print Manager Page
Notice a major upgrade to this page in this new version. We see 9 convenient tools parked at the left side of the screen.  In the previous version of the M3D printer software, there were only 3 such tools.  

But before we get to those, let's examine the most used buttons at the bottom of the screen and to the lower right of the screen. 


Primary Print Manger Buttons

The most used button in this group is the Print button in the center of the group.  It simply starts the printing process.  To the left of the Print button is the Reset View button that returns our viewpoint to the front view.  To the right of the Print button is the Center Model button that allows us to quickly center the currently selected modelIt does not center the entire model group if there are more than a single model on the print table.

The Back to Library button is found to the right and toward the bottom of the screen.  It look like this:
Clicking on this button takes us back to the Library Page.  Because we can Open a Model from the Print Manager page, the only reason for needing to go back to the library is if we want to load an item already in the library onto the print plate.


Now we can turn our attention to the new toolbar docked to the left side of the screen.
The object to be printed in the above sample really doesn't lend itself to demonstrating the full power of these tools.  So, we will bring in another that starts out by being too big to print.  To do so we will click on the "Back to Library" button at the bottom right sode of the screen and select a different model from the Library.  Then we will click on the Printer image to return to the Print Manager Page.  The result is this:

M3D Print Manager Page - Model Too Big
Notice that this time two walls are bright orange in color.  This means that the object extends past the edge of the print plate and needs to be resized or reoriented before it can be printed.  Let's examine each tool to see how they might or might not be able to help get this model ready for printing.

The MOVE Tool

To move or relocate a model on the print table we click on the following tool icon.

Move Button
Clicking on this icon brings up a second dialog having "X" and "Y" values.

X & Y Value Set Dialog

By changing the values in this dialog, we are able to move the object left to right ("X") or back to front ("Y").  In the case of this object there is no problem current issue with the "Y" location and because the object overhangs both left and right edges, we cannot solve our issues by changing the "Y" values.  So, we can click on the Move Button again to remove the dialog.  We may come back to this later.


To resize an object we click on the following tool icon.

Resize Tool
When we click on this icon, a second dialog box is displayed enabling us to resize in three dimensions... "X", "Y" and "Z".

XYZ Resize Dialog
There is a checkbox in the center of the dialog box.  When this is checked all the values change with a single value is changed.  When it is not checked, the values can be set independently.

Clearly, using this tool could seem to solve our problem.  In fact, if we lower the values to 93% (0.93) we see that the object is within our print limits.  There are no highlighted areas!

Size reduced Until Part Fits

However, since this part is designed to interface with other parts even a small 7% reduction might be too much.  Since our issues are with the X dimension, we could unlock the values and only set the "X" to 0.93.  But, for now we'll take all the values back up to 1.00.  We'll try one more thing before resrting to resizing.  Click on the Resize Tool to remove the dialog.


To rotate an object we click on the following tool icon.

Rotate Tool
When we click on this icon, a second dialog box is displayed enabling us to rotate in our model around three axes... "X", "Y" and "Z".

Rotate Around X, Y or Z axis dialog

In almost all cases, it is the "Z" axis that we want to rotate around.  Altering "X" and "Y" can often result in the part needing supports where no supports were required in the original orientation.  However, it is sometimes necessary if the model was designed so that it is brought in having an orientation that would not print well without supports. 

In the case of this model, it turns out that rotating the model -85 degrees orients it in a position where all the object fits in the print area without having to resize it.

Rotating -85 degrees fits the object on the print table
This is a far better solution than resizing the object would have been.  Click on the Rotate Tool to remove the Rotate Dialog.

This is the first of our additional tools in this new version.  We can load multiple models into the Print Manager.  This tool helps us select which model we want to manipulate with the tools we've already discussed. To access a list of the available objects we click on the following tool icon.

Model List Tool
Before clicking on the Model List Tool button, we'll bring in multiple models as in this sample.

m#D Multiple Models in the Print Manager
To help us see the three individual models a bit better, we'll hold down the left mouse button and move the mouse to rotate to a top view of the print plate.

Multiple Models - Top View
Note that several objects are highlighted with a colored edge.  A single model can have multiple parts.  In this case, the shark model includes a shark ring, a swimming figure and a sign.  Clicking on the Model List Tool brings up a list if the models in the Print Manager.
Model List
Interestingly, even though the shark was the active model when I first clicked on the Model List Tool button, it was not originally highlighted as expected.  This is most likely due to the "ALPHA" status of the software.  The above image was grabbed AFTER I manually selected the shark using the list.

Only one model can be selected at a time.  So, to fix the fact that the shark model is outside the prinar tab;e boundaries, we have to select each of the objects and move them individually.  The next three images demonstrate this.  You can click on the image to make it larger.

Selecting Models from the List and Moving them indiidually
You can also select models by cliking on them.  But, the selection, for now, is not reflected in the Model List Dialog.


Sometimes it is convenient to load multiple copies of the same model into the Print Manager.  While repeatedly go though the Import process, it's much easier to simply select the object and click on the Duplicate Selected Object Tool which adds another copy instantly.

Duplicate Tool

Remember, this software is currently in "ALPHA" status.  But, when the duplicate object is brought in for now, it will most likely have to be moved as you can see from this image.

M3D Duplicated Model
I expect that eventually the original model will be automatically moved to make room and the new model will be placed so that no additional relocation is required.  But, for now it's easy enough to manually move things around.  I'm just thankful we now have a quick way to duplicate objects easily.

There is one thing that should be mentioned in a discussion of choosing to print just one object many times vs. duplicating the object and printing once.  Every object you add to the print plate increases the chance of failure.  If one part fails for any reason the whole print job is ruined.  Therefore, one must know one's printer very, very well before starting a long print job with duplicated parts.  Sometime I make that choice; but, most of the time I deem it wiser to print a single item at a time.  In generally, either method ends up taking about the same overal amount of time.


To delete the currently selected model click on the Delete Model Tool Button. 

Clicking on this button deletes the currently select model.  To delete multiple models each has to be selected and deleted individually.


The UNDO and REDO tools behave in a typical Windows or Mac style.   The UNDO Tool Button looks like this.
And the REDO Tool Button looks like this.

UNDO takes one step BACKWARD in the action queue each time it is clicked.  The REDO tool just just the opposite.  It moves FORWARD and restores actions removed by UNDO for each click.  So, you never have to worry that you are going to make a serious mistake or loose a model by accident.  That's nice to know for peace of mind.


The Save Successful Print button looks like this.

OK.  I'm going to have to get back to you one this one.  Because, I don't know if you have to get through a print before using this one or not.  When I try it, it seems to save a fike with the .ZIP suffix.  But, I can't seem to find the file.  Again, this IS an ALPHA release.

So, there you have it.... the Print Manager page in the new version ALPHA.  I don't know about you; but, I like the added convenience of the new left side toolbar options.

Friday, April 28, 2017

M3D Micro/Pro Software ( ALPHA V1.7.0.71) - Library Page

With the introduction of the new M3D Pro 3D printer, M3D has also introduced a new ALPHA version of their client software. The great news is that it works with both the Micro and the Pro. However, because it is ALPHA software, existing Micro owners may want to wait until it matures a bit before upgrading. It did overwrite my previous M3D software instead of being installed as a separate item. 

While much of the interface will have a familiar feel for earlier M3D users, there are enough changes and improvements to make a significant difference in how easy it is to use our 3-D printers. Since I do not yet have the Pro, we’ll examine the software using a Micro. We’ll have to examine the features specific to the Pro in a later post. 

When using the any M3D software for the first time with a brand new printer, a dialog will pop up reminding users to remove the gantry clips that kept the printer safe during shipping. 

M3D Gantry Check Dialog
If printer has already been used with this software, the dialog will not come up when the application is started. 

This is the opening or "Library" screen if no models have been previously uploaded. 

M3D Alpha v1.7.0.71 Opening Screen
At this point, it is the same as the previous version of the software.  From here, beginning in the upper left corner, we can:
  • Launch the Add/Remove 3D Ink dialog
  • Launch the "Open a new 3D Model" dialog
  • Identify the currently selected printer 
  • Launch the printer selection dialog
  • Launch the Settings dialog 
  • Launch online help
  • Search for recent models
  • Load recent models into the Print Manger
  • Load recently printed model into the Print Manager
  • Remove recent models from the Library
  • Launch the Print Manager
Let's examine each of the above individually.

Launch the Add/Remove 3D Ink dialog

When the "3D Ink" is clicked, the "Manage Filament Page" dialog will pop up that allows us to load or unload filament ("3D Ink").  

M3D Manage Filament Page
One of the nice features about this page is that in case the software has not correctly assessed the current filament situation, there is a "CLICK HERE IF NOT CORRECT" option.  For those of us that travel with our 3D printers, this is a handy option.  Often, after a demonstration or class is over, we don't take the time to completely unload filament before putting the printer in its travel case.  We simply cut the filament about 4 inches above the print head.  This can fool the printer when we try to use it the next time.  

We'll cover filament loading and unloading in a future post. 

Launch the "Open a new 3D Model" dialog

When "Open Model" is clicked, a file finder dialog box is opened that shows supported file types.

M3D - Add Model Dialog
The supported file types are .STL, .OBJ and .ZIP.  Obviously, the selected zip file should contain either a .STL or a .OBJ file.  If our view settings for files are for small, medium, large or extra-large icons then the appropriate files will be shown with the M3D icon as in the above sample.  Selecting a file will load the file in the Print Manager and display it on the Library shelf for quick access in the future.

If there is already a model loaded into the Print Manager, the option to remove it or keep it and add the new model is presented.

From there we leave the Library and are taken to the Print Manager screen.

Identify the currently selected printer 

If an M3D printer is attached and selected, its serial number will be displayed along the top of the screen.  Otherwise, the message will say, "Not Connected".

For now, all M3D printers must be connected via a USB cable.  But, this is expected to change in the future.

Launch the printer selection dialog

The M3D Software allows us to select from multiple M3D printers.  If more than one printer is connected to the computer by USB cable, it will show up in the dialog.

M3D Choose Printer

In this case, we have 2 orange Micro printers and 1 clear Micro printer from which to choose.   Simply click on the printer's image to select it.  We rarely have more than one M3D Micro connected to any given computer.  But, we expect this to change with the high production performance and offline running capabilities of the new Pro.

Launch the Settings dialog 

Clicking on the little gear icon just to the right of the printer identification area launches the Settings dialog.
M3D Settings Dialog

The Setting dialog options are far too rich for us to delve into them now.  In fact, we will have to break down the options into several posts to cover them with any justice.

We can point out that there is a new tab on this page with the title "Pro/Micro+ Features" that is not accessible unless a Pro or Micro+ is attached.  So, the features will have to remain a mystery until we actually have one or the other.  

This is the first hint that M3D might be planning a Micro update!  This is very intriguing to us because the Micro has become an important part of our strategy for advancing the 3D design skills of our teachers and mentor cadets.

Launch online help

When the Question Mark at the top right of the screen, it takes us to the online M3D site.

M3D Online  Help Site

Search for recent models

Just above the "Recent Models" and "Recent Prints" tabs there is a "Search" text box that allows us to FILTER recent models or prints in the Library by name or partial name.  In this sample we see that we have at least 6 recent models visible.

M3D Unfiltered Recent Model List

However, by entering a "Z" in the search text box and hitting RETURN, the visible files are filtered so that only those files beginning in 'Z' are shown.

M3D Filtered Recent Model List
With this in mind, it can be a good thing to develop a naming convention that helps filter models easily as the Library grows.

Load recent models
Load recently printed model

When we click on a Recent Model or Recent Print image of a model in the Library, that model is loaded into the Print Manager.   We then leave the Library and move into the Print Manager.  

This is where new features begin to show themselves.

M3D Print Manager
Notice the new set of icons at the left side of the screen.  While we will discuss the Print Manager in a separate post, suffice it to say that I love this new layout.   More later! 

Remove recent models from the Library

There is a feature that is not obvious that allows us to remove a model from either of the "Recent" shelves.  When we click on a model and hold down the left mouse button AND DRAG THE MOUSE a trashcan will appear at the bottom right of the screen.  If we continue to drag the model to the trashcan it is removed from the library.

NOTE: If we fail to reach the trashcan, the model may be loaded into the Print Manager.

Launch the Print Manager

We can open the Print Manager at ant time by simply clicking on the printer image to the left of the library tabs.

The real changes to the M3D Printer Software in this new release become obvious when we leave the Library Screen.  But, this is the launching place for all the new features so it is important to understand all that is available on this screen.

We move next to the Print Manager.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Personal Guidlines For Testing New 3D Printers

I love testing new products and have had that opportunity many, many times.  It's been a pretty interesting journey.

Along the way, I've come up with some guidelines for myself designed to help avoid running down rabbit trails or blaming the new product for outcomes for which they are not responsible.  I thought it might be helpful to point out some of these guidelines.  This list isn't complete; but, it's a pretty good starting place.
  • Set realistic expectations
  • Avoid using old filament
  • Avoid using 3rd party filament
  • Take the time to calibrate
  • Use simple forms for first tests
  • Document with video
  • Be as clear as possible when reporting observations
  • Useful tools for analysis
So, let's take them individually.

Set realistic expectations

M3D has been crystal clear that users should opt out of early delivery if they are unable or unwilling to deal with early production issues.  3D printers are very complex products that require the tight integration of software and hardware.   Early adopters can, and should, expect some fits and starts in pursuit of perfection.   Some anomalies will only show up in the field.  And, when they do the reason is NOT that "the printer is garbage"; but. simply that an unknown issue has surfaced as new users push the limits.  Patience is our friend.

Avoid using old filament

To me, filament is one of the weak points of any 3D printing experience.  Old filament, in particular, can be so internally damaged simply through absorbing moisture from the environment that it can make even the finest 3D printers look like utter dogs.  This is one reason why I urge people to by filament in smaller reels rather than huge reels.  And, I keep filament in closed containers with desicant while being stored.  But, even with that protection I would ALWAYS exclusively use brand new filament while evaluating a new 3D printer.

Avoid using 3rd party filament

Not all filament is produced using the same standards of uniformity.  While i know the M3D Pro is built to be able to use any high quality filament, for initial testing purposes I want to remove as many loose variables as possible.  This means using a filament that is absolutely certified for use in the printer.  And, for me, that means using M3D filament for my initial testing.  This then can be the baseline as the tests branch out to include 3rd party filaments.

Take the time to calibrate

We drum into our cadets that to successfully use our tools we have to KNOW our tools.  Every single time we open a new M3D Micro printer we go through the same complete calibration drill of leveling, gapping and setting the backlash.  Only after these operations are complete can we give the printer a fair shot at evaluating it's performance.  Yanking it out of the box and immediately expecting a perfect print simply isn't fair to the printer and distorts our evaluation.

Use simple forms for first tests

Having designed and printed thousands of objects over the past half decade, I have plenty of challenging prints to throw at the M3D Pro when it arrives.  But, none of them would tell me as much as a simple thin wall 20mmx20mm box with a pointed roof or a modest 3D object that combines some common 3D primatives like spheres, cones, rectangles and holes.  These objects are small enough to be printed very quickly.  And, they are also small enough to be readily examined under a stereo microscope where Z-Axis wobble and other common issues can be easily identified and described.   Print quickly and analyze slowly.  :)

Document with video

I'm a little biased here because I was a video producer for more than a decade after graduating from college.  These days we have a variety of video tools that can help us in our quest to analyze issues with products and materials.  My own arsenal includes everything from a dedicated 3-chip video camera to a simple little $10 snake camera that can be mounted right on the chassis of the printer.  Phones and GoPro cameras are also great tools to help us communicate what we see.

Be as clear as possible when reporting observations

When we do fine issues, it's very important to try to be as clear and complete as possible when reporting our finds.  "It clogs" might be accurate; but, it's hardly helpful to support personnel trying to replicate the issue and find a solution.  Great information would include the type of filament used, the age of the filament, make of the filament, when in the printing process the clogging showed itself and if you were able to easily clear the clog immediately.  The gap settings would also be helpful and whether other objects worked with those same gap settings.

Useful tools for analysis

Those of you that have read my earlier blogs know that I absolutely love an inexpensive child's stereo microscope called the C&A Scientific My First Lab World of Wonder Scope.   There are actually several versions of the C&A Scientific children's scopes and all of them are invaluable at well under $100!   This particular model includes 50x optics as well as 20x glass optics.

Other tools that are really helpful are a digital depth guage and a set of digital calipers.  Both can be purchased at relatively low cost on Amazon and Harbor Freight has a variety of different digital calipers from which to chose.  These very helpful in measuring the actual results relative to the design software specs.  For instance, in most 3D printers holes are typically smaller than designed and posts are typically larger than designed.  The question is just how much any given printer will vary so that we can make allowances for that.

Testing and evaluating a new 3D printer can be a lot of fun if we approach it as a journey with plently of opportunities for discovery.  I'm looking forward to my M3D Pro journey.  :)

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Exciting days Ahead! Waiting for M3D Pro.

I have been very quiet on this blog as M3D was hard at work getting the M3D Pro ready for prime time.

Frankly, having lived through some disastrous premature releases of other 3D printing products from other companies, I have been more than happy to wait for my first M3D Pro until the M3D team felt it was ready for release.

Now, don't get me wrong.  I do not expect an absolutely perfect 3D printer in the first run.  Years and years of experience has taught me that a design team simply cannot completely debug software and hardware because they innately know what NOT to do.  It isn't until a product gets into to the hands of users that things are attempted that are completely out of bounds of 'expected' use.

I am more than happy to be an early adopter of the M3D Pro.  The features that it ultimately promises to deliver are so far above those of any of the many other 3D printers I own, or use, that they more than offset whatever issues that might surface in the early days.

We love the M3D Micro.  It has a special place in our work with teachers and at-risk kids.  But, it's not a high production printer suitable for heavy classroom use.

The JellyBox Kit printer IS a high speed printer that produces beautiful prints.  It, too, has a unique place in our work with at-risk young people.  We love it.  But, it cannot match the M3D Pro as the perfect, compact 3D printer for the classroom for everyday work.  Those of you that have owned a RepRap style kit printer will understand the subtle difference.

We need a printer than can be stored under lock & key, transported easily to the classroom for class and that can be counted on to work reliably after every move.  Most importantly, however, we need a 3D printer that requires as little fuss as possible.  Our teachers and students want to print, not fiddle with a printer.

And, unless I am completely wrong, the M3D Pro is going to be the perfect printer for those challenging requirements.

We'll soon find out and I am REALLY excited about that!   

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

M3D is Doing it Right!

You haven't heard from me for quite a while.

There is a reason for that.

I have been waiting while carefully following the progress of the M3D Pro.

You see, I am a bit gun shy when it comes to the way companies roll out new 3D printers.  And, since my reputation and good will are going to be heavily invested in helping M3D printer owners, I needed to be ABSOLUTELY sure that I was following the right horse.  And, while I love the M3D Micro for what it is meant to be, the M3D Pro is a horse of an entirely different color.

I don't know if the term "Alpha" means much to you; but, as a software developer with more than 37 years of professional experience it means a LOT to me.

I know just how important it is for software (and hardware that relies on software) developers to release their products to a small group of users prior to final release of a product.  I could never get the manufacturer of the 3D printer of my previous blogs to understand that.  Thus, ALL users became Alpha and Beta testers... with frustrating and disastrous results.

But, M3D is different.  Not only have they not allowed themselves to be pushed into a premature release of the M3D Pro; but, their first tier of users will be using Alpha printers.  And, these users have been told so in M3D's latest Kickstarter update.  It is extremely important to note that M3D's latest update quite carefully explains what receiving an Alpha printer may mean to the first round of users and provides a way to opt out if users are not ready to work through some unexpected glitches here or there that an Alpha user sometimes confronts.

You have NO idea how happy this makes me.  It confirms my feelings about M3D management's commitment to ALL of their M3D Pro users.

This candor has benefits to two different groups of users.  Those who relish the idea of being an early user will be able to dive right in to experimenting and putting the M3D Pro through some hard testing.  We like the idea of helping to improve the user experience for all users.  But, there are others who don't want the potential frustration of working with a printer that has not been fully tested in the field.  And, M3D has given them that option.

I'm really looking forward to the M3D Pro arriving on my doorstep.  I know that their design engineers have done their best to move 3D printing in  major step forward.  From M3D updates, I know the production line engineers are working hard to make sure the line moves smoothly once full production has begun.  But, most of all, I know that those in charge of this company have proven their commitment to quality in how they have run this new roll-out and communicated with so much candor.

Now, I'm ready to move to the next level of M3D fun!

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Looking Forware to a Great M3D Pro Year!

2016 was a productive 3D year.  But, with the promise of the M3D Pro, this year promises to be even more productive.

But, that doesn't mean that I want the M3D Pro to be released until the developers are absolutely sure that it is ready for prime time.

That is because I lived through the premature release of the 3rd Gen Cube 3D printer.  The early days of its release forever ingrained in me that patience is a virtue when it comes to waiting for a product to be released.  The problems of early 3rd Gen Cube machines doomed the line and wasted a lot of time and energy on the part of users.  By the time they finally did get it right, it was too late.  And, frankly it was quite a nice 3D printer when all the kinks were ironed out.  Between my own and those in the 3D ThinkLink Lab, I am using 6 of them in active service

But, I do not have any doubt at all that the M3D team will not make the mistakes that dogged the Cube team.  They are too meticulous for that to happen.  And, from top to bottom they are user experienced focused.  They know that it is the user's daily experience that spells the success or failure of a 3d printing product.

Notice that I did not simply say that the M3D team was "User Focused".  I very specifically said they were "User Experience Focused".  There is a difference.

Every conversation I have with them and every communication I've read concerning the progress of the M3D Pro, tells me they understand that we, the users, want as close to a trouble-free working relationship with our 3D printer as humanly possible.  We simply want to print... not fool around with a printer.

Now, I'm not so naive as to think there will never be a need for user intervention with the M3D Pro.  After all, it IS a mechanical device.  But, the more meticulous the designers are in meeting their published goals, the less you and I will have to fiddle to finish a print.  And, that will be a first for me with any of the 3D printers i have owned or used... right on up to the professional full-color powder based printer we have in the lab.


M3D will be at CES.  And, I am told to pay close attention to the news from Las Vegas.  I have no idea what it will be.  But, at the very least, we should see some major online media outlets provide some more insight into and information about the M3D Pro.  So, I'm going to keep my attenna up for any scrap of news that I can come by.

You can bet somebody will be grabbing the print head mid-build to see how well it recovers!

But, as impressive as that capability is, the real meat and potatoes I'm looking for is completely automatic leveling and gapping.  That means rock-solid reliability and I can't wait for that to be my experience with a 3D printer.

I have all the confidence in the world that the M3D team is going to deliver that in 2017.  And that is very exciting for me.